Thursday, July 29, 2010

Equus (A Comment that became a Review)

This is a reply to Gibbs Cadiz's article on Equus staged by Repertory Philippines.

"Repertory Philippines’ ongoing production of “Equus” at Onstage Greenbelt 1 makes clear that, nearly 40 years later, the play’s poetry remains vital and intact. It’s the intellectual riggings that are shown, upon second look, to have frayed considerably over time.

While Shaffer’s lines, especially as delivered by a technically flawless Miguel Faustmann (playing the psychiatrist Martin Dysart), still transfix with their power and beauty, what they’re talking about is, in the end, rather wearyingly silly."

I disagree, at least in reference to your discussion on the relevance of the play today, but nice review, as always.

I think your argument only works if you look at the lines of Dysart in a vacuum; that is, without considering the environment from where the ideas spring from. I agree that the dichotomy Dysart presents is really a false dilemma; however, I also think that his lines are merely products of the elements of the play as a whole. Furthermore, what he actually says, at least at face value, is the least important of the lessons one can derive from the play.

For me, what the play presents is really the interaction of religion, psychology and society, and how these relationships affect the individual who does not conform to the prevailing norm. Strang is particularly unique because he was brought up by a fervent Christian and a dogmatic atheist (setting aside the plausibility of that relationship, we suspend disbelief). And of all things, he grows up pagan! The idea that he cannot believe what he wants to believe without being humiliated (in two very different ways by the father and the mother) is the starting point from where we can start to understand the psychological and social underpinnings of the story. And we cannot just brush under the carpet his worship as the ramblings of a crazy man; paganism has as much value (or non-value if you're an atheist) as Christianity. He was a closet pagan, and the idea that people will know what he is fundamentally, terrifies him (consider his reluctance to open up to the good doctor, or his inability to explain to the girl that the stable is his temple).

And so the real dilemma isn't what Dysart (also a pagan, as he himself declared) says, but the fact that society has pushed the two into roles that refused to allow them to accept their passion without being humiliated or scorned. And so you have two very pitiful creatures, one driven to insanity because he dared embrace his passion and worship, and Dysart, who will forever be imprisoned by the consequences of his own timidity. I look at the play as a tragedy.

I’m agnostic, and so the play was interesting for me because of one more point. I’m especially amused when people attribute the worship of horses as something only a crazy person will do. In my mind, it’s not that different from believing that the piece of bread you’re about to swallow is a piece of divinity, or that someone was possessed of the spirit and gave a virgin birth. As Christians always say, it all boils down to faith. The boy had it in spades, why then is he considered crazy? Even if the object of his faith isn’t something most people will worship, there’s no reason why it cannot be considered a legitimate religion. I’m not ready to concede that a religion requires a multitude before it can be given legitimacy.

So that’s why I disagree. On the contrary, I consider the play very relevant. There are several lessons to be learned, all debatable, on the nature of religion, the value (or non-value) of religion, the usefulness of social standards, etc., and in a country that is as dogmatically religious as ours, the play opens a discussion that is usually otherwise closed.


  1. I love this bitch-slap of a post. Hah.

  2. Hey anonymous! It's not a bitch slap; it's a debate. I like that you like it though. :-)



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